Let’s say I was to pick up a book on microbiology. I know nothing about microbiology. I am the furthest thing from a science aficionado. I could, however, read the book. I would be able to figure out the words and, maybe, understand a simple concept or two. I would walk away from that book knowing what mircobiology was and understanding it a little better. But I wouldn’t know microbiology. I wouldn’t have a passion for it, a desire to study more, a working and functional understanding. My brain just doesn’t work that way. There is a difference between knowing and knowing.
I grew up, as I have said before, in a church family. We were involved. My parents set a great example of service in the church. We were there. I memorised books of the bible in sequential order, I mastered sword drills, memorised verses, learned all the key stories. I could debate the merits of Christianity adeptly with the knowledge I had gained. I knew things. I could read my bible and understand the language and the cadence. I could read and know what the words meant and where the story was leading. I knew things. I had knowledge. But I didn’t really know.
I feel like this might be starting to sound a little strange. So let me elaborate a little. Samuel was a boy who was dedicated to God and service in the temple from a young age. I’m talking just-weaned young. As soon as he could eat without his mom, he was brought to the temple. His mother was in a difficult situation as a co-wife who had no children and was mocked for her barrenness by her fellow wife. Her husband loved her dearly and tried to fill that void, but she wanted a child to shut this other lady up. I am pretty sure that any of us in the same situation would probably feel the same way. So she prayed and said that if God would give her a son, just one child, she would dedicate that child to Him. So Samuel, from his earliest memory, knew only temple life. He lived there, worked there, learned there, ate there. He saw his family once a year. His whole life was lived for God’s service. He had knowledge. There is no way he could have grown up in that environment and not learned things about God. He would have witnessed the sacrifices, the offerings, the reading of the Law. He would have witnessed people with disease and illnesses, people trying to atone, people being moved out of town for uncleanness. He knew. He would have heard words from scripture repeated over and over. He probably had a lot of them memorised. He knew things. Any child who grows up with parents of conviction knows things. It’s a good thing.
When was the last time you read the story of God calling Samuel? I was reading it today. It is one I have known since childhood. I could have told you the plot with ease. But the older I get and the more I read, the more I realise I have so much to learn, especially the parts I think I already know. There is a small verse in this accounting that I have probably passed over more than once.
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.(3:7)
It is easy to pass over, it just seems like one of those statements that elaborate on the story, but don’t really provide a whole lot of meaningful detail. Except, here, it does mean something. Because the word we know as ‘know’ is very different than the word the Hebrews used for ‘know.’ Their word was more than just knowledge, their word was full of intimate detail, of soul deep connection, of living understanding. It is the same word used about Adam knowing Eve. This is the word that is used any time a husband knew his wife. It suggests a connection. Differentiating between our understanding, which is basic and bland (like vanilla ice cream), and the Hebrew word (ice cream cake) is really important to understanding what this verse is trying to say.
Samuel was aware of the scriptures. He was aware of the customs, the sacrifices, the requirements of the Law. But he didn’t intimately and deeply and soulfully know. God had not revealed that to him. It is no different from me, growing up knowing a whole lot without actually knowing. And this is the struggle of parenting. I know. And I want my girls to know. But that is not something I can do. I can teach and train. I can talk with them when I wake and when I lie down and when I walk by the way. But I cannot make their hearts know. That is up to God and God alone.
Here is where I take heart. Samuel heard a voice. And he thought it was his “father” Eli. He went to this trusted source three times. The third time, his trusted source realised that it was God calling. And he instructed Samuel as to the proper response. That instruction, coming from a trusted source, directed Samuel when God called for the fourth time.
I am my children’s trusted source. I cannot reveal God to them. I can teach them about God, I can teach them scripture and stories. I can teach them. But only God reveals. God has given me the responsibility to be that trusted source. To grow and build a relationship with my girls so that they can come to me. So that I am the first person they come to. So that I can tell them when God is calling. When God is trying to get their attention. I cannot reveal God, but I can direct their steps. I might not get it right the first, or second, or third time. But eventually I will. Because that is how good my God is. Eli might be but a footnote in the story of Samuel, but he had cultivated a relationship that enabled Samuel to come to him. He grew a connection that caused Samuel to respect him. He was able to recognise what Samuel was not yet able to, and to tell Samuel, and to lead Samuel in the proper response. Is there a greater gift I can give my children? No. There isn’t. The greatest gift may come from God, but my relationship can help them see that gift when God calls them to it.